Pakistan at Dunedin, February 9-14, 1985
Pakistan 274 & 223
NZ 220 & 278/8
New Zealand won by 2 Wickets
On a recent trip to Dunedin I made my first ever visit to Carisbrook Park. What confronted me was a wasteland of overgrown grass dotted with lumps of concrete. It looked so small that I had to confirm with a passing local if Google maps had got it right. It had. There is always something eerie about empty and desolate land in the midst of built-up urban areas. But it becomes downright mournful when such areas once housed thousands of people witnessing great drama. Staring at what remained of Carisbrook left me disbelieving that this was the place that had once hosted so many great occasions in Otago and All Black rugby, so many drunk students and burning couches, and two of the greatest cricket tests ever played in this country. And where was the plaque? ‘It was in this location that on February 13, 1980 Stephen Lewis Boock and Gary Bertram Troup successfully completed the greatest Leg Bye in Test Cricket’.
And almost exactly five years to the day afterwards, on February 14, 1985 it would be the turn of another inadequate batsman to become the hero of Carisbrook and most of New Zealand.
In the five years between these two Carisbrook classics, New Zealand had evolved under the leadership of Geoff Howarth from a cricket team that looked as shocked as its opponents when it won a Test to one which now expected to win every series played at home. And they went into the Third Test against Pakistan in 1985 1-0 up and looking to seal another one.
The game started on a Saturday which meant uninterrupted attention for me over the first two days. But those two days were tempered by the thought of a looming work course during the following week. I was not brave enough to test my jumper arm earplug system during a work course, so was reduced instead to catching glimpses of what was unfolding by staring at TV sets in appliance store windows during breaks in the course. I was like those people you see in old black and white photos standing on pavements watching the first moon landing.
It was one of those classic ebb-and-flow 250 v 250 v 250 v 250 Test matches where you can never be certain as to which team was in the ascendency or who would ultimately win. Having said that, the bookmakers would definitely have been backing Pakistan when New Zealand slumped to 23 for 4 in pursuit of 278 to win. But Martin Crowe and Jeremy Coney narrowed the odds with a stand of 157 for the fifth wicket, and New Zealand got to within 50 runs with eight down when Lance Cairns was then struck on the head and forced to retire hurt.
This brought Ewen Chatfield to the crease to join Jeremy Coney. Sometime during the early stages of this partnership there was a break in my course and I was astounded to discover people gathered around a television set nearby to where our course was taking place. Why the hell was I not informed of the existence of this TV days ago? Anyway, I quickly recovered from my fit of pique to discover Chatfield at the crease with too many left to win.
I was at least comforted by the sight of Lance Cairns seated in a chair by the boundary with his trusty Excalibur resting close by. Good old Lance, what is a knock on the scone when you come from Spring Creek? Any length of time Chatfield could stay at the crease in support of Coney would be a bonus until Big Lance came back out and saved the day.
I would not have been quite so confident, however, if I had known the reality of the situation. Apparently Cairns was out to lunch and would probably need to be told by the umpire which way to face if he had gone back out there. I am still not sure whose idea it was to put him in that chair. Was it a ploy to offer comfort to people like me and Ewen Chatfield or a deliberate tactic to unsettle the Pakistanis?
Not that it mattered in the end. Chats did the job as Lance pretended to watch on from his chair. Jeremy Coney certainly appeared unfazed, trusting his Wellington teammate with the strike as the runs were gradually ticked off. A large crowd was now huddled around the TV and cheering every run; while I was also wondering just how many people across the country were staring at TV sets in appliance shop windows. But one thing was certain – I was not returning to my course until this game was completed, one way or the other. This could have potentially led to some kind of awkward confrontation, but thankfully nobody else on the course, including the person in charge, was going back either.
Ewen Chatfield ended his 43-Test career with a batting record of 180 runs at 8.67 and one death (against England at Eden Park in 1975, when he was thankfully brought back to life by the England physio after being struck a sickening blow in the temple). Not a great record, and yet he was the only batsman in world cricket to ever successfully conquer the infamous corridor of uncertainty just outside the off-stump – by reacting so slowly that the ball was already past him by the time he played his shot. In Dunedin in 1985, Wasim Akram was 18-years old, making his test debut, and already had five to his name when Chatfield appeared at the crease. Akram would mature with age and experience into the greatest left-arm fast bowler I have ever seen and one of the canniest cricketers around. But he should have bowled at the stumps on that memorable day.
Still, it was truly gutsy and heroic stuff from a man whose job was never to win games with a bat. And it is a true oddity of cricket that so often it is left to the bowlers to win games with the bat. Unfair as well. I mean, have you ever seen somebody toss the ball to Tom Latham and say: ‘Righto Tom, we need three wickets in the last hour to win the game. Good luck.’
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